By Bill Wellock, Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice
WILKES-BARRE — First National Bank has been vacant for more than four decades, but it could soon at least be stable — a step toward hoped-for development.
Four companies submitted bids to do stabilization work on the landmark building at 59-63 Public Square.
The bids were:
• $618,040 from C&D Waterproofing Corp. of Bloomsburg.
• $789,750 from Hudak Waterproofing of Taylor.
• $960,000 from Stell Enterprises Inc. of Plains Township.
• $889,264 from Quandel Construction Group, Inc. of Scranton.
The city’s ultimate goal with the property is to renovate the building to make it more attractive to developers, said Deputy City Administrator Greg Barrouk.
“We want to make sure it’s structurally sound before inside repairs,” he said.
The state awarded the city $1.3 million in a local share account grant for the project. Funds left over after the outside work would go toward interior renovations, Barrouk said.
“There’s been a lot of damage to the roof and the skylights as well. There’s been water damage. With any project, you need to stabilize the outside before you work on the inside. We’ll look at what’s left and determine where we need to go with the next phase,” he said.
The building needed emergency work earlier this year. A permit on the front door from May 8 authorizes A.R. Popple Construction Inc. to do $23,000 worth of stabilization work on the structure.
The Luzerne County Historical Society last year named the former bank — vacant since 1974 — one of the county’s top endangered historic sites. Other city sites on the list included the Irem Temple on North Franklin Street, the Central Railroad of New Jersey station next to Wilkes-Barre Boulevard and Sacred Heart Church on North Main Street.
Barrouk said the building will be stable after the outside work is completed and won’t be in danger of falling down or needing an emergency demolition — a fate that befell three other city-owned properties on South Main Street.
“Demolition is not even a thought right now in this building,” he said. “We plan on having it stabilized to where that’s not even a factor. If we can get the majority of work done before the winter freeze and thaw, we think we’ll be completely fine.”
“What we will know is that the property isn’t going anywhere anytime soon,” he said. “We’re waiting to get all this work done before officially marketing it.”
Property developers have recently been busy in downtown buildings that formerly housed banks and offices.
DxDempsey Architecture in Scranton announced plans in February to convert six floors of the Citizens Bank building at West Market and South Franklin streets into 72 luxury apartments. Hysni Syla, of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, bought the former Wachovia Bank building at the same intersection for $285,000 earlier this year. He plans to create apartments there and hopes to attract a bank and other commercial development. A developer has plans to put student apartments in a building at the intersection that formerly housed a bank on its ground floor, said Larry Newman, executive director of the Diamond City Partnership.
Other projects included a building renovation at South Main and Ross streets and the Luzerne Bank Building, which is on the same block as First National Bank.
Those projects had office space above the ground floor, but First National Bank was just a bank, Newman said. That limits the possibilities for a conversion, he said.
“Sometimes spaces like that, it’s not necessarily obvious at first glance how they’ll be reused. When the solution finally arrives, in form of someone who finds what will work, people look at it and say, ‘Wow, what a terrific reuse,’” he said.